Rifle man faces first-degree murder charge | AspenTimes.com

Rifle man faces first-degree murder charge

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Prosecutors have decided to move forward with a first-degree murder charge against a Rifle man accused of killing his brother with a shotgun.

During a brief court appearance Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney James Leuthauser asked for a lengthier period of time before bringing Heath Johnston’s case to court again.

“This case is extremely serious, and I perhaps would suggest some additional time,” Leuthauser said.

Johnston, 20, next appears in court for arraignment on Feb. 24.

Public defender Steve McCrohan emphasized his office may demand a preliminary hearing.

Johnston was arrested Dec. 15 in Rifle on suspicion of first-degree murder. Police responded to a call of a shooting around 7:23 p.m. They arrived at a home near the scene of the shooting on the 700 block of East Avenue.

Neighbors pointed to a nearby home, where police saw Johnston standing on the porch with his hands up, police said in an arrest affidavit. He was arrested.

Johnston allegedly said during and after the arrest that he shot his brother, who wanted to be shot because he’d been having troubles with his wife and “couldn’t get peace,” police said. A neighbor said he’d heard similar statements.

Sam Johnston, 26, of Rifle, died from a shotgun blast to the back of the head while he was sitting on a couch in the home, police said. Police found an open cell phone on his chest and an empty bottle of liquor near his hip, police said in a search warrant affidavit.

Heath Johnston claimed in a police interview that his brother had asked him and other family members to shoot him, and that he’d been arguing with his brother before agreeing to shoot him, police said.

Among the items police seized during a search of the home were a shotgun, two rifles, ammunition and suspected drug paraphernalia including a glass pipe and a piece of tin foil with burn marks on it, police said in court documents.

Johnston remains in the Garfield County jail on $2 million bond, where he’s been trying to consult with a Catholic priest.

His attorneys filed a motion asking a judge to compel the jail to allow Johnston personal visits with the priest instead of only video visitation. The jail only allows video visitation to prisoners in the maximum security area. Johnston maintained he couldn’t have “confidential counseling” through video visitation.

A judge denied the request.


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